Wednesday, 31 August 2016

In threes - Duterte, Brexit, and Trump?

First there was Duterte, a.k.a. "Trump of the East", winning the Philippine's Presidential election.

Then there's the Brexit vote. Led by a Trump clone (among others).

Are we going to see a President Trump?

Pundits reading the tea leaves think the results of the Brexit Referendum is bad news for Hillary Clinton:
As Brexit proves, working people around the world are in no mood for common sense. They are angry, restless, uncooperative.
And that means (if US voters are like UK voters) that the angry, restless, working people of the US is also in no mood for "common sense" (because "common sense" will only bring them more of the same, which for them so far, has been nothing.

And the US will vote in a President Trump in November.


Well, good and bad things comes in threes, it may well happen! Right?

There are logical reasons to think that Brexit suggests there will be a Trump Presidency.
The referendum campaign -- just like the U.S. election -- has boiled with populist anger, fear-mongering by politicians, hostility towards distant political elites and resurgent nationalism, and exposed a visceral feeling in the electorate that ordinary voters have lost control of the politics that shape their own lives. Its success raises the question of whether those forces will exert a similar influence in America in November.
Just as the UK voters were distrustful of the experts and authorities warning of the repercussions of Brexit, the US voters are also distrustful of authorities, experts, and warnings about the unsuitability of Trump as President.

And Trump is now (after the Republican National Convention), the Republican Presidential Nominee.

Why are voters voting "badly" - if we define "badly" as against the "conventional wisdom". And if we define "conventional wisdom" as who the experts think should be the winner or at least presidential material.

Why are voters distrustful of the established political leaders and parties, distrustful of their "expert opinion" and choosing alternatives and mavericks? 

Short answer? Globalisation.
Large segments of the population in advanced countries have not been doing well: in the US, the bottom 90% has endured income stagnation for a third of a century. Median income for full-time male workers is actually lower in real (inflation-adjusted) terms than it was 42 years ago. At the bottom, real wages are comparable to their level 60 years ago.
The failure of globalization to deliver on the promises of mainstream politicians has surely undermined trust and confidence in the “establishment.”... and now, in elections in the US and Europe, they are having their comeuppance.
Oh, there are other suggested "answers". In the aftermath of Brexit, Bremainers called Brexiters "stupid" or "uneducated".

Similarly, critics of Trump, "Trumpiness", Trump supporters ("Trumpeters"?), and even the Republican party, suggests that those who support Trump are stupid.

In a New York Times story, it was reported that Hillary Clinton was losing the support of White, Less-educated voters. Donald Low commented that "this is why an important precondition of a functioning democracy is a reasonably educated populace - which in a rich country context means college education."

Implied in that comment, is that only stupid or uneducated voters will vote for someone like Trump.

Some would disagree.
Finally, and most worrying of all, is the sentiment that Mr Trump’s rise is the result of a “stupid” populace... the rise of Mr Trump reflects people feeling disenfranchised and increasingly marginalised because of growing inequality in American society.
Brexiters and Trumpeters feed off the same concerns.
 I would point to three parallels between Brexit and the Donald Trump phenomenon that should worry the Clinton campaign. The first is the potency of immigration as an issue. The second is the way in which the Trump and Brexit campaigns have become vehicles for protest votes about economic insecurity. The third is the chasm between elite opinion and that of the white working class.
In GE 2011 in SG, one might say that the same effect (chasm between elite and the working class) was seen in SG. Voters felt that the ruling party was not in touch with the ground, were not listening, and FW and FT were making life for Singaporeans harder. And the elites were not only NOT doing anything about it, they were saying there was NOTHING to be done.

So GE 2011 became a vehicle for voters to express their anxiety about how their needs were not being met.

Of course, the self-acclaimed "politically wise" pundit then claimed that opposition voters were foolish. The Old Man himself said that voters in Aljunied would repent in time to come. And some wise guys (myself included) thought that this is a potentially fatal flaw in Democracy - that democracy inevitably causes voters and politicians to see only the short and immediate term.

GE2011 was such a "watershed" election (I have no idea what is a "watershed". But everyone calls it that so I'm just going along with it), that pro-opposition pundits were suggesting that this swing against the PAP was the new normal, it was a long time coming and way overdue, and that the Singapore voters had matured and was more ready for a nuanced democracy.

Then, GE2015.

In the aftermath of GE2015, it was the pro-opposition who now called voters stupid and foolish and short-sighted.

This wise guy felt vindicated.

But while I defended the results, I was wary of triumphalism, because there was still one question I did not have answers to: Why did voters vote the way they did in 2011 and then in 2015?

And until I am assured that I understood that, all I was reasonably sure of is that the next election, the swing will go the other way.
What swings one way, will swing back.
Well, Brexit and Trump, and to a certain extent, Duterte provide a hint as to the answer.

And the answer is simple.

People vote for what they believe will be a better life, or if it is not clear how a better life will come about, then they will vote against the status quo if the current status is bad for them.

So Singaporeans voted against the PAP in 2011 because their lives were not improving and had not been improving for a while, housing was getting more expensive, costs in general were rising (or there was the perception that it was), there were more foreigners, and immigrants and they were creating (or people were blaming them for) social friction.

In the UK, voters voted for Brexit, because they believed (or were led to believe) that being part of the EU was the problem, that UK was losing more than they were gaining from the EU, that foreigners and immigrants were taking their jobs, or keeping their wages down, or taking over their cities and towns, and diluting their culture.

And US Primaries, Trump beat all the other Republican candidates because Republicans believe that "business as usual" or the status quo had brought about all the troubles that the US face today, that immigrants are a source of social problems, that conservative values are under attack and declining and this is why the situation is bad. That crime and unemployment are at their worst (they are not) in years, and to fix the problem and to "make America Great Again", they need a president that will NOT be business as usual.

And in the Philippines, it was the same story. Except for one major difference. The problems of crime and its impact on the lives of the people are real and serious, whereas, the scenario painted by Trump of the US in decline is a fiction propagated for political gain.

Filipinos are tired of crime, corruption of the political elites, and business as usual, which means no change to their life's situation. So they looked for someone who could improve their lives, and found... Duterte. I believe the Filipinos are not deluding themselves into thinking that Duterte would solve ALL their problems. They just want someone who is not part of the political elite, able to solve at least the most pressing problem (say crime), and make their lives a little more tolerable. Maybe, in some ways, Duterte is superficially like the Trump of the East, but in at least one area, he is better than Trump - he has been Mayor of Davao, and in his 10 years as mayor, he has reduced crime in Davao from the murder capital of the nation to the most peaceful city in SE Asia. That is quite a feat.

Now, Filipinos would like him to do it for the rest of the country.

And in Singapore, in 2011, voters were thinking that things had to change. So they voted a change, by changing their votes.

So in GE2011, the PAP suffered a 6.5 point vote swing (IIRC) against them (and still managed to poll 60% overall). The post-election analysis was that while they were good with policies, they were horrible with politics, especially in their communication of policies (and also because some of the recent policies were quite "tone-deaf")

In GE2015, they regain 10 points, polling 70% overall. This in large part was because the ruling party had addressed or started to addressed the pain points of the electorate in the preceding 4 years. Or at least the voters felt that sincere attempts had been made and real results have changed the situation.

Which brings us back to quote attributed to Churchill: Democracy may be the worst form of government, except for all the others we have tried.

I believe LKY said that the only thing Democracy is good for is that it allowed for a peaceful transfer of power, from one govt to another.

I have regularly ranted and railed against the limitations of Democracy. And against ideologues pursing democracy for democracy's sake.

And I still hold these positions.

But Democracy for all it's shortcomings, is still the best way for a peaceful transfer of power. And for the people to give their "score" for the ruling party. For people to have their say, and for it to mean something.

I didn't like the outcome of GE2011. But it was the will of the people. If, despite all the angst and anger, there was NO perceptible change, the legitimacy of the Singapore govt would be in question. As it is, there was always a suspicion among the core opposition supporters, that the deck is stacked against the opposition.

(They are not wrong. The First-Past-the-Post system will lead to a disproportionate majority of the winning party in parliament. It is not a bug. It is a feature. Because Proportional representation leads to coalition governments which are inherently weak and less effective.)

I like the outcome of GE2015. Again, it was the will of the people. I thought Brexit was a terrible terrible decision. But it was the will of the people. When Duterte won the election for the Philippine's Presidency, I was... bemused. I did not understand it.

Well, I tried to understand why would Filipinos vote for Duterte.


Desperation for change.

When all your "sane" options are bad and is likely to propagate the status quo, you have to realise that insanity is doing the same things over and over again, and expecting things to change. So you do the (not) sane thing, and vote for a change.

And the news coming out from Philippines sounds terrible. As Duterte is doing exactly as he promised.

I am in no position to judge Duterte or his methods. I can't agree with his methods, and what he has set off, but... I do not live in the Philippines, I have no experience of the life of a Filipino. I do know that there is corruption, and crime and drugs, and these have been endemic, and no one has been able to bring these under control or to reduce the problem (if not outright eradicate them).

Philippines has a lot of problems, and Duterte was elected to solve the most pressing problems. In the worst way possible.

The difference between Duterte and Trump is that Duterte has experience (he cleaned up Davao as mayor) and he understands that what he does is not nice. But it has to be done, and when completed, Filipinos will have a better life.

Trump is a megalomaniac who thinks he is great. And does things for his own selfish benefit.

He is just a good salesman. Or at least can pitch a good sales pitch.

So he is able to convince people that he can change things for the better. Or maybe he is simply saying that because that is what sells, not what he has to sell.

For the voters who feel left behind by the economy, "economic calm" just means more of the same, more "business as usual" that does not benefit them, that does not improve their lot. Their disdain and distrust of experts is evident by their dismissal of all the economic arguments against Brexit.

The problem of Donald Trump is the problem of Democracy - it is not compatible with Meritocracy, and within democracy lies the seeds of populism.

Donald Trump is not what happens when Democracy goes wrong. Donald Trump is always a risk with democracy - someone who panders to the emotions, to the fears of the electorate, who highlights the immediate fears and proposes short-term solutions while ignoring longer term concerns and issues.

As a critique of "free-wheeling democracy", I would like Trump to win. If only to prove a point.

But there is too much at stake for such a moral lesson.

And we have the advantage of watching from afar, Brexit, Duterte, and the Rise (temporarily) of Trump, and also Bernie Sanders.

The lesson of the rise or dominance of these in rebellion against conventional wisdom, should be that conventional wisdom may not be very correct or wise.

Flawed though Democracy is, it is still the best way for the people to signal their approval or disapproval of "conventional wisdom" in power.

The PAP learnt that voters did not approve of how they had been doing things in 2011, and responded to the signals the voters sent, and regain the trust of the people in 2015. This was done BEFORE the election was even called. In a pre-election survey about a month before Polling Day, 70% of respondents said that they would vote PAP. The PAP got 70% (slightly less) during the actual election. Valid survey or just coincidence?

While the PAP won big in the last GE, this does not mean that they can sit pretty and just go with business as usual. The problem with responding to signals, is that it sets up greater expectations. And more signals.

[Afternote: Here is an article that explains the Trump Supporter. ]

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